Could Coal Port Plans Threaten what remains of the Great Barrier Reef: It’s about Water Quality

A central Queensland conservation group says there is no way a proposed coal port development south of Rockhampton could be built without damaging the Great Barrier Reef. The project includes a system to transfer coal from barges onto ships with a capacity to export 22 million tonnes of coal a year.

An UNESCO report indicates that the Port Alma Fitzoy Delta area is not considered an existing major port. It is one of the last intact estuaries feeding into the Great Barrier Reef. Although the resources boom is critical to the region and provides for long term  financial security it may be better to optimise and maximise existing port facilities and rail infrastructure.

Queensland’s iconic Great Barrier Reef could be put at risk if authorities do not rethink plans to allow massive expansion works at ports along the Queensland coast. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority chairman Russell Reichelt has warned the Federal Government that huge dredging operations aimed at servicing Queensland’s growing coal seam gas industry posed an unacceptable risk to marine life on the reef. He raised particular concerns over planned expansions that include coal-loading, one at Port Alma, south of Great Keppel Island, and one in the pristine waters of far north Queensland at Bathurst Bay.

Gas companies Santos, Origin Energy and the Gladstone Ports Corporation – which was granted approvals to do the dredging work – have been required to undertake environmental impact studies to gain government approvals, resulting in a significant number of environment conditions. At least six major port developments are either planned or underway up and down the Queensland coast. A few highly managed areas with significant infrastructure such as rail for coal and other resources transport to existing ports may be a better option.

Queensland's resources boom is putting new stresses on the reef.

A World Heritage mission will visit Queensland in the coming months, amid concerns the booming LNG industry could threaten the long-term health of the reef. The United Nations World Heritage Committee rebuked the Federal Government for failing to notify it in advance of the approvals for LNG projects inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. The failure was a breach of World Heritage guidelines, but Mr Burke says the process followed common practice (VIDEO: World Heritage Centre fears reef damage (ABC News)).

Water quality has been an ongoing and highly contentious issue. As of last week, the multi-million dollar dredging project in disease-hit waters near Curtis Island has been stopped while scientists determine if it is impacting the water quality. A three-week fishing ban was imposed on the Gladstone harbour due to considerable water quality concerns after sick fish with skin lesions and cloudy eyes were found.

The ban was lifted on October 6 following water test results, released by the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM), that indicated no deterioration in water quality since dredging began. However, one of Queensland’s leading independent water quality experts, Jon Brodie, told Four Corners the report has serious limitations  (VIDEO: Scientist raises concerns over Gladstone water quality report (ABC News)).


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